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Business of the House

Volume 618: debated on Thursday 8 December 2016

The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 12 December—Remaining stages of the Savings (Government Contributions) Bill followed by debate on a motion relating to the welfare cap.

Tuesday 13 December—Remaining stages of the Neighbourhood Planning Bill.

Wednesday 14 December—Opposition day (16th allotted day). There will be a debate entitled “The disproportionate negative effect of the Government’s autumn statement and budgetary measures on women” followed by debate on homelessness. Both debates will arise on Opposition motions followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to counter-terrorism.

Thursday 15 December—Debate on a motion on creation of a commercial financial dispute resolution platform followed by a general debate on broadband universal service obligation. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 16 December—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 19 December will include:

Monday 19 December—General debate on exiting the EU and science and research.

Tuesday 20 December—Debate on a Back-Bench business motion, subject to be confirmed by the Backbench Business Committee, followed by general debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment.

I thank the Leader of the House for coming to the House today. He has had a very busy week. Margaret Thatcher said that everyone needed a Willie. She was referring to Willie Whitelaw, and the Leader of the House is rapidly becoming the Willie Whitelaw of this Government. He is there whenever anyone needs him.

The Leader of the House helpfully published the dates for Easter, May day and Whitsun under Standing Order No. 25 on Monday. May I press him for one more date? He failed to say when the House would rise for the summer recess. Some people are suggesting that it will be on 20 July, but we are not sure.

Yesterday the Government finally accepted that they needed a plan, a strategy and a framework. The Leader of the House said yesterday that the Opposition were

“quarrelling like ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ as re-shot by the ‘Carry On’ team.”—[Official Report, 7 December 2016; Vol. 618, c. 208.]

I am sure that the British Film Institute is wondering where this genre falls! I should like to remind him that it was the intention of 40 Government MPs to support yesterday’s Opposition motion that resulted in the Prime Minister conceding—from Bahrain—the Labour motion. Where was the tarantula? The spider was missing, too. As ever, the message is confused. The Chancellor is saying that we are going to be out of Europe but that we will actually be in and paying for it. So we are out but we are in; it sounds like Government hokey cokey.

The situation is confusing for everyone, including our farmers. May we have a debate on the effects of exiting the EU that are causing concern to our farmers? In 2014, the UK exported £12.8 billion of products to the EU, which was approximately 73% of our total agri-food exports. May we have a response to the letter to the Prime Minister signed by 75 organisations asking for tariff-free access to the single market and a competent reliable workforce? Those organisations want protection for food safety, security and hygiene, and proper stewardship of our countryside, and they say that affordable food will be at risk if Ministers fail to deliver continued access to labour and the best possible single market access.

May we have a debate on the report on opportunity and integration? If this Government were serious about opportunity and integration in this country, they would reverse the £45 million cut in English for speakers of other languages, which affected 47 colleges and 16,000 learners. I know of a learner under ESOL who learned English, learned to drive and is now a driving instructor—oh, and she just happens to be a Muslim woman. Members around the House will be able to find similar examples of people taking opportunities as a result of ESOL. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Government restore grants to local authorities, so that libraries, community facilities, the provision of skills training, and prevention work with families are not cut? Will he also ensure that they restore the migration impacts fund, which was set up by the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and then cut by the coalition Government in 2010? It was included in the 2015 Conservative manifesto as the “controlling migration fund”. They can change the name, but they have not yet introduced it.

We must support our schools and ensure that the Equality and Human Rights Commission remains funded, independent and able to scrutinise the equality impact of policies and legislation. As we will celebrate Human Rights Day on 10 December, may we have a debate on protecting the Human Rights Act, which is an important piece of legislation? Some have argued that the UN declaration that became the European convention on human rights was just a moral code with no legal obligations, but the Human Rights Act gives it legal force. Every right that was incorporated in the Human Rights Act was systematically violated during the second world war.

Given that it is soon Human Rights Day, will the Leader of the House follow up on the Prime Minister’s response to the request from my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British national imprisoned in Iran? If the Foreign Secretary is too busy trying to learn who his counterparts are, perhaps we can ask the United States, which signed that agreement with Iran. We need the Human Rights Act to protect basic freedoms—every day, everywhere.

There have been two electrical overload near misses on the parliamentary estate and we still, through no fault of our own, cannot turn off the lights in Norman Shaw South. Will the Leader of the House update us on that?

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and the Speaker’s chaplain Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin both received awards this week. The whole parliamentary family acknowledges and congratulates them.

As for Her Majesty’s Opposition, we will be carrying on regardless—[Laughter.] Wait for it. We will carry on regardless, trying to secure economic and social justice for all British people.

May I join in the congratulations to your chaplain on the recent award, Mr Speaker? I also I wish the shadow Leader of the House many happy returns for yesterday.

We will try to give the summer recess dates as soon as we can, but it is not usual for them to be announced at this stage in the parliamentary year. I looked into the situation regarding the lights in Norman Shaw South after the hon. Lady’s question last week, and my understanding from the House authorities is that there was a serious fault in what is frankly an obsolete electrical circuit system. They had hoped to get the repairs done this week, but I will ask the relevant executive in the House service to write to the hon. Lady with the latest details. As for the other matter the hon. Lady raised, when she said “carry on regardless”, she rather provided the description herself. I am sorely tempted to indicate the cast list that I have mind, but I will eschew that particular temptation.

Turning to the hon. Lady’s policy questions, what was striking about last night’s vote was that for the first time the Opposition Front-Bench team and most, but not all, Labour Members accepted the Prime Minister’s timetable to trigger article 50 by the end of March 2017. Given that the shadow Foreign Secretary had said as recently as September that we ought to go back to the people before taking a final decision to leave the EU, that possibly suggests a welcome change of heart on the part of the Opposition, and I hope that it is genuine and sustained.

The hon. Lady made points about the impact of leaving the EU on the food and farming sector, which is an important aspect of the forthcoming negotiation. That sector is a major employer and makes a major contribution to the UK’s GDP. Many of its chief export markets are in other EU countries, so the Government are closely consulting the National Farmers Union, the Country Land and Business Association and other representative organisations—the Food and Drink Federation and so on—about the approach that will ensure that their interests are strongly represented in those negotiations. Clearly, the issue of labour will be a part of that, as will access to markets, but the Opposition have to acknowledge, as one or two in their ranks who have served in ministerial office have said publicly, that it is hard to see the vote on 23 June as one that would allow the continuation of free movement of labour as it currently exists. From my experience, of looking at opinion polls and of talking to people during the campaign, it seemed that that issue of migration was very much at the forefront of people’s minds when they came to vote.

The hon. Lady alluded to the Casey report on integration, produced earlier this week. Louise Casey highlighted, in her direct style, some really important and deep-seated social challenges. I can trade statistics about money spent on teaching English as a second language, and I do not want to decry the importance of ensuring that people who arrive in this country learn English as a matter of priority, because without that someone cannot really play a full part in the mainstream of society. However, what I hope to see coming out of that report will be a conversation and a growing shared understanding, across party political lines and around the country, of the fact that these problems are not capable of solution by an Act of Parliament, a ministerial speech or a tweak to a spending programme here and there. We are talking about problems of the self-segregation of communities that have deep cultural roots, and we have to work out locally and nationally how those should best be addressed.

The hon. Lady made a few points about other items of spending. I have to say to the Opposition that they cannot both attack the Government for not moving quickly enough to reduce the deficit and also criticise every action that is designed to obtain savings and pay that deficit down. We are having to take tough decisions now because of the failure of the housekeeping of Labour Ministers when they were in charge for 13 years.

Finally, we have a proud tradition of human rights in this country, but that existed and was strong long before the Human Rights Act. There was no magic to that piece of legislation, and this Government are committed to keeping human rights at the forefront of all our policies. I agree on the importance of the case of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and I hope that the Government in Iran will show mercy towards her and bear in mind the fact that her little daughter has been separated from her parents for so long. British Ministers and officials are doing everything they can on behalf of the family to try to bring this case to the outcome that we all wish to see.

The Royal Bank of Scotland has announced its latest round of NatWest bank branch closures, which will have a significant impact on my constituency, as well as on the constituencies of many colleagues across the country. Rochester, which is a key commercial town, will be left with only one bank in the centre. This has been a running theme across the country as we have seen the number of bank branches reduced by half in the past 25 years. Will the Government make time for a debate on the wider impact of these closures on the elderly, the disabled, and small businesses and retailers, which rely on these very important services?

I completely understand why my hon. Friend is speaking up so strongly on behalf of both domestic bank customers and businesses in her constituency. Of course what the banks will say is that more and more of us, both as individuals and businesses, are moving to online banking services, and that that therefore reduces the viability of the branch network. Ultimately, these are commercial decisions for the banks, but I hope that when bank directors and managers think about the impact of a proposed closure on a particular town, they will take carefully into account the impact on communities, particularly on people and those businesses that cannot simply go on online for the banking services that are so essential to their needs.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. It is good to see him back in his more familiar habitat of business questions after his exertions yesterday at PMQs. It was such a stellar performance that I and several of his hon. Friends are thinking about a DL for PM campaign—a sort of “Carry on Lidington” when it comes to PMQs.

It is another week and another instalment of Brexit cluelessness and chaos. Now we have it under the banner of a red, white and blue Brexit. After the Labour party meekly followed the Government’s article 50 agenda yesterday, it will be the red, white and blue Brexit v. the tartan remain. Now that Labour has more or less caved in on the article 50 agenda, why does the Leader of the House not just bring forward a proper vote and end the circus in the Supreme Court? What is stopping him doing that now?

On that same theme, some remarkable things have been said in the Supreme Court, most notably from the Government’s top legal officer in Scotland, Lord Keen, who told us that the Sewel convention was merely a political act and that this House can simply override the views of Scotland. I was in this House during the passage of the Scotland Act 2016, and I remember speaking on it at length—I also remember the Tories voting down every single amendment that we put forward. In particular, I recall that a motion that said that the Sewel convention would be in statute was passed by this House. We also agreed on the permanence of the Scottish Parliament. As massive disrespect has been shown to the views of Scotland, I would like to hear what the Government’s views are on all this.

This week, the lords debated the size of the House of Lords. It was like watching be-ermined turkeys voting on the size of their Christmas pens. Now that the House of Lords has managed to secure a debate on the size of that unelected circus, when will we get the same opportunity?

I think that I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. I always think it is very dangerous when one is being prayed in aid by a senior Opposition spokesman in that way.

On the points that the hon. Gentleman makes about Europe, we must not forget that, even in Scotland, 40% of the population voted to leave. I can assure him that the Government will be looking for a Brexit that is, yes, red, white and blue, but that pattern includes the flag of St Andrew, and the saltire’s interests will be very much in our minds throughout those negotiations. That is why—to take one example—we have just established a new Government Committee, along with the three devolved Administrations, which is chaired by my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, to ensure that the three devolved Administrations have access regularly and at ministerial, not just official, level to those who are leading the negotiations on behalf of the entire United Kingdom, and that their interests are fully taken into account and understood.

The hon. Gentleman questioned me about the court case. Although I will not comment on ongoing judicial proceedings, I will simply say that the High Court judgment did raise important questions about the scope of prerogative powers and the relationship between the Executive and the legislature that we believe need to be decided through the appeal to the Supreme Court. The High Court decision required not just a resolution to be passed by this House or by both Houses of Parliament, but primary legislation. Clearly, as I have said before, we will have to await the Supreme Court’s decision, but the ministerial code and the civil service code oblige the Government at all times to obey the rule of law.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for giving me two bites of the cherry, and apologies for standing at the wrong time earlier, which goes to show how confusing this place is. Thank you for being so generous.

The floods of 2013 were devastating in Somerset, and my constituency covers half the area affected. The Somerset Rivers Authority was established to deal with future flood resilience. The then Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the then Secretary of State for the Environment gave assurances that the authority would be funded by a precept on council tax bills. Can my right hon. Friend give me an assurance that the legal framework for that is being established?

Anyone who remembers the TV coverage of those dreadful floods in Somerset will understand why that was such a searing experience for my hon. Friend’s constituents and those of other hon. Friends representing the county. The Government have, of course, given additional funding to the local authorities directly affected so that they can make the necessary provision for future flood management. My hon. Friend calls for that sum effectively to be ring-fenced and handed over to the precepting powers of a new statutory rivers authority. The Government remain committed to the action promised by David Cameron when he was Prime Minister and we intend to legislate as soon as parliamentary time is available.

The Leader of the House will be aware that on Monday and Tuesday this week the House rose somewhat earlier than scheduled, as Government business had come to an end. I know that the Leader of the House does not have a crystal ball, but I wonder whether we can work together to schedule reserve Backbench Business debates for such eventualities in the future. Members would accept, obviously, that if the Government business ran to time, those Backbench Business reserve matters would fall, but it would be useful to have reserve Backbench Business debates for such eventualities.

On a constituency matter, my constituent Jawad Dar came from Pakistan, where he had witnessed a double murder, for which the perpetrator was imprisoned in 2004. The murderer was released after six years and Mr Dar fled to this country in 2012 when other witnesses to the original crime were themselves murdered. By then the perpetrator had become the mayor of the region. Since 2012 Mr Dar has wrongfully been accused and convicted in absentia of crimes that he could not have committed because he was here in this country. The Home Office accepts all this as fact, yet has inexplicably determined to send Mr Dar back to face almost certain death in Pakistan. I implore the Leader of the House to urge Home Office Ministers to review this case urgently in the name of the British values of fairness, justice and mercy.

On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, I am happy to have a discussion with him about that possibility, although as he acknowledged in the way that he framed the question, it is very difficult for Government business managers to understand in advance how much time Members from different Opposition parties and, for that matter, from our own Back Benches are going to want to spend debating particular amendments on Report, how many Divisions they may seek, and so on.

On the constituency case, although I do not know the details I will ask the Home Secretary to take a close look at it, as the hon. Gentleman asks.

The proportion of secondary schools that are good or outstanding in the north-west has increased by 3%, by comparison with a national increase of 13%. Can we have a debate on what measures we can put in place to support northern white working-class boys and girls so that they can achieve their true potential?

I point my hon. Friend towards Education questions on 19 December. The point he makes echoes the argument made in a speech earlier this week by Sir Michael Wilshaw, who drew attention to the gap in achievement between northern and southern England and called for a much more resolute, determined exertion of leadership in schools, local authorities and other agencies in the north, to drive up standards. I am sure that my hon. Friend will do all he can to champion that effort.

After the past week, it would be hard to deny that the Secretary of State for Transport is doing anything other than making a huge partisan mess of managing our railways. Govia Thameslink also manages Great Northern and the Hertford loop, which affects many thousands of my constituents. This is the largest franchise let by the Department for Transport. If the Great Northern franchise is going to go the way of Southern, which increasingly looks to be the case, we will have a further, even greater disaster on our hands. Can we have an urgent debate in this Chamber on those train services, which affect people in the north and south of this capital city, and will the Secretary of State himself attend?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport did, of course, respond in person to an urgent question earlier this week on these matters. He has always felt that local authorities and MPs should have an appropriate say in local train services. I understand the point the right hon. Lady is making, but a lot of suburban commuter services also serve communities in the home counties, my own included. Placing the entire lead role in the hands of the Mayor of London and Transport for London would remove from my constituents and those elsewhere in the home counties any kind of democratic accountability for the management of their train services and the setting of budgetary priorities, so this is a more complex question than some of the critics of my right hon. Friend have been prepared to acknowledge.

May I gently say to the Leader of the House that the work done by the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), on the Somerset Rivers Authority is proving fruitful? However, the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), who is not in her place, was trying to make is that this is not just about Somerset—it is about the whole United Kingdom. We need to have another look at the whole way flooding is dealt with in this country; it is not synonymous with Somerset or any other part of the country. We do need to look at precepting, but we also need to have legislation, and I know that the Secretary of State is looking at it. Would it be possible to have a debate in this place to discuss the whole concept?

I cannot offer an immediate debate in Government time, although there may be opportunities for my hon. Friend to raise this issue—perhaps in the debate before the Christmas Adjournment. I can only repeat what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow): the Government are committed to the changes she is seeking, and we will legislate as soon as parliamentary time allows.

In January, the Secretary of State for Transport promised the then Mayor of London that Southeastern’s rail services would transfer to Transport for London when the franchise came up for renewal. On Tuesday, he told the House that he had looked at Transport for London’s business case and that it was not going to provide improvements for passengers in terms of capacity and extra trains, both of which points were incorrect. We now know that his true reason is that he wrote to the former Mayor of London in April stating that he had changed his mind because he would rather keep suburban rail services out of the clutches of a Labour Mayor. That is politically partisan and brings no benefit for my constituents, who suffered delays on that rail service yet again this morning. We need the Secretary of State back here in the House to account for the chaos on our rail services.

I completely understand why the hon. Gentleman, as a London Member, makes that case so vehemently, but, as I said a moment ago, there are interests to be borne in mind of communities outside Greater London who depend utterly on those same routes for their own journeys to work. The Department for Transport wants to work to jointly with TfL to get the best deal for passengers both inside and outside London.

In recent days there has been further media coverage about the risk of fires in certain models of the Vauxhall Corsa. It is welcome that the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency is looking into this again, but may we have a statement from a Transport Minister on what the Department is doing to co-ordinate activities and reassure owners?

I will make sure that my hon. Friend’s concerns are understood by the appropriate Minister at the Department for Transport and ask the Minister to write to him as soon as possible.

When can we discuss the injuries suffered in sport? We will then have a chance to congratulate the Welsh Rugby Union and England’s Rugby Football Union, which have reacted positively to the new medical knowledge of the deadly long-term effect of early Alzheimer’s on those who suffer repeated blows to the head. Could we also look to the suggestions made here last week that we need international action throughout the rugby world and the boxing world to recognise that practices that have been tolerated for a long time should no longer be permitted, so as to allow these sports to be made acceptable to younger generations?

It is right that it should be primarily for the sports’ governing bodies to take the lead on this. I am sure that since they are so keen to recruit young men, and increasingly young women, to these sports, they want to be able to say confidently that the rules that they have in place do everything that can be done to protect the safety of competitors. I will ensure that Ministers at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport are aware of the hon. Gentleman’s comments. DCMS questions, including to the sports Minister, are coming up on Thursday 15 December, so he may well have another bite at the cherry then.

As my right hon. Friend knows, the biggest social issue facing our country is that of dementia. Only too often, dementia carers do not have access to blue badges in order to help their charges. May we have a debate on this to ensure that carers can park much more easily?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of this issue. I am sure that he would want to join me in saluting the work of the Alzheimer’s Society, in particular, and the creation of a network of more than 1 million dementia friends throughout the United Kingdom. The blue badge scheme already allows carers to use a blue badge when accompanying the badge holder, so the carer in those circumstances does not need a badge in his or her own right. It is then up to local authorities to decide whether to have an additional local permit parking scheme for carers on their own. Given the very different constraints on car park capacity and patterns of travel between one local authority and another, it is right that those decisions should be taken locally.

Now that the Leader of the House has had a bit of time to think about it, may we have a statement or a debate on jobcentre closures, with particular reference to the part of the Smith agreement that says that the UK Government and the Scottish Government should work together to

“establish more formal mechanisms to govern the Jobcentre Plus network in Scotland”?

Perhaps in that debate the Government can explain to Glasgow’s MPs and the Scottish Government why they had to read in the press that our jobcentres were going to be closed.

My understanding is that the existing pattern of provision in Glasgow means that it has significantly more small, separate jobcentres than other large Scottish cities. The Department for Work and Pensions is proposing—the consultation is now under way—to reduce the overall number so that services can be concentrated in locations that are still accessible to everybody in the city and provide a better quality of service to people who need access to jobcentres in person. One of the reasons why fewer people have been using individual jobcentres in Glasgow is of course that unemployment in that city has been falling significantly. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would sometimes acknowledge that in his questions.

At a recent surgery, two of my constituents described how members of their family had had their lives turned around for the better by the work of the Burton addiction centre in Staffordshire. Could we have a debate on the provision of drug and alcohol services in Staffordshire, which are set to be considerably reduced by reductions in spending next year, so that we can ensure that the experiences of my constituents will continue to be positive?

My hon. Friend is always assiduous in speaking up for the interests of his constituents in Stafford, but it is local authorities that are responsible for commissioning effective drug and alcohol prevention and treatment services, and those decisions are based on the authorities’ understanding of local needs. Health questions on Tuesday 20 December may give my hon. Friend the opportunity to raise his concerns directly with the Secretary of State.

May I join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on his award? He is a fellow Leicester City supporter and we need some good news this week after last night. May I also warmly congratulate you and Mrs Bercow, Mr Speaker, on your 14th wedding anniversary, which was yesterday? I noticed that you yawned a couple of times this morning, so it must have been a very good party last night. Perhaps that is why the Norman Shaw South lights are still on today.

The Prime Minister has returned from the Gulf, where she met various kings and other Heads of State. The issue of Yemen must have been discussed. Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early statement by the Prime Minister on her discussions with the Heads of Government on the issue of Yemen, where 80% of the population are still in desperate need of humanitarian care and assistance? We hear about Syria and Iraq a great deal in this House, but not enough about Yemen.

I am happy to add my congratulations to those expressed by the right hon. Gentleman, both to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and to you and Mrs Bercow, Mr Speaker.

Anybody who saw Fergal Keane’s BBC report earlier this week about the situation in Yemen will have been both shocked and moved by the plight of so many families who are suffering grievously in the way described by the right hon. Gentleman. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did discuss Yemen, among many other issues, with the Gulf leaders during her visit this week. The Government are, of course, committing significant sums—£100 million has so far been committed for this year—to humanitarian relief in Yemen. We are also part funding, through an additional £1 million, the office of the United Nations special envoy for Yemen, because ultimately it is only through an effective political process that we will be able to bring about a resolution to this appalling conflict.

I feel very confident that, by one means or another, we will hear about Yemen in the Chamber next week.

I was delighted to hear that there is to be a debate in this place about broadband, but discussions on broadband invariably tend to focus on rural areas. I have nothing against rural areas, but the reality is that there are pockets of urban areas, including my constituency of Cheltenham, that are affected. There are specific factors that affect urban areas. May we please have a debate on the roll-out of superfast broadband in urban areas?

I completely understand my hon. Friend’s point. The problem that he describes in Cheltenham is also experienced in not spots in other towns and cities, and I know how frustrating it is, both for householders and for businesses whose broadband access is limited because of it. The Chancellor announced in the autumn statement some additional funds that are available to develop high-speed broadband further. I hope that that may provide opportunities for Cheltenham, as well as for other places.

Post offices play a crucial role in many communities, particularly in rural villages such as Blackford in my constituency. May we have a debate about the importance of maintaining small shops and post offices, particularly in rural communities, so that the Post Office and others can see the important economic and social impacts of closures?

I cannot promise the hon. Lady a debate, although there are questions to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on Tuesday 13 December—next week—and it seems to me that the subject falls within that Department’s responsibilities. This Government and their predecessor, the coalition, put provision in place for communities to take over and operate the last retailer or pub in their area, and I know of examples in my own county where local communities have stepped in successfully.

Ultimately, in an age when more and more of us are doing our shopping and accessing services online, there is an inescapable relationship between customer demand for the services provided by small shops and the viability of those shops as businesses. The message to our constituents has, in part, to be: “You need to use those services, or you risk losing them.”

Following a remarkable and brave interview on this morning’s edition of “Woman’s Hour”, which I recommend that hon. Members listen to online, may we have a statement about the delayed-action but deadly threat posed to pupils and teachers by the continuing presence of asbestos in schools?

I did not hear the interview on “Woman’s Hour” this morning, but I will highlight my right hon. Friend’s interest to the relevant Minister at the Department for Education and ask for a letter to be sent to him.

It is welcome news that Tata Steel and the unions have come to an agreement to keep Port Talbot open, and that the Labour Government in Wales are providing support for training. Does the Leader of the House agree that we ought to have a debate about ensuring that that survival goes forward for our steel industry, and in particular that the workers, in agreeing this deal, do not lose out on their pensions?

There are some legal requirements that govern pension schemes, which give a measure of protection, and accrued rights under the old pension scheme—I understand that it is proposed to close the scheme—remain preserved. I share the hon. Gentleman’s welcome for the agreement that was reached yesterday and pay tribute to those in all political parties in Wales who have fought so hard for such an agreement to be struck. It is good to see that a way appears to have been found to enable steel production to continue at Port Talbot. I will ask Ministers to address the particular point he raises, but we have Business questions next Tuesday and he may want to try his luck at raising this question again then.

It is almost the first anniversary of the Boxing day floods that devastated my constituency and large parts of west Yorkshire. Before the Christmas recess, will the Leader of the House arrange a statement from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to explain what has been done over the past year to prevent any further such flooding in my constituency and those other communities in west Yorkshire, and to explain what arrangements are in place to ensure a rapid response from authorities—including local authorities—if such terrible floods happen again on bank holidays over the Christmas period?

Each area now has a designated local authority—either the county or the unitary authority—that has a lead responsibility for co-ordinating flood management and response to flooding. The Government have also ensured in their response to more recent floods in the north-west and south-west of England that Bellwin scheme money is released at a much earlier stage than has sometimes been the case.

Spending on flood management continues, and we recently published a flood resilience strategy that sets out a plan for the longer-term future. I will make sure that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is aware of my hon. Friend’s particular concerns about his own area, about which she may wish to reply in more detail to him.

Liverpool City Council is conducting an online consultation on how to find £90 million more of cuts. That is in addition to the £330 million it has already found since 2010, meaning that it will have lost 70% of its Government support by 2020. May we have a debate in Government time on the disproportionate impact of these cuts on authorities such as Liverpool City Council? In all fairness, will the Leader of the House also come forward and say how the Government can help to alleviate the problem that it has caused?

It is undoubtedly true that local authorities—whether in northern or southern England, whether Conservative or Labour councils—are having to take some very tough financial decisions about their relative priorities, just as Departments are having to take some very difficult decisions centrally. These are not decisions that any of us—Ministers or local authority leaders—relishes having to take, but they arise from the fact that we inherited an economic wasteland in 2010, with a deficit worse than that accumulated by any Government in our history and one that needed to be paid down as a matter of urgency. It is no good Opposition Members both saying that the Government are moving too slowly to cut the deficit and at the same time resisting each and every measure taken to make the reduction of the deficit possible.

The PISA—programme for international student assessment—results on educational standards were released earlier this week. Sadly, for the 12th year in a row, Wales lags behind the rest of the UK. That caused the head of Ofsted to say that the result was bringing the UK average down, and the Welsh Liberal Democrat Education Minister to say that we “can do better”. May we have a debate on how the Westminster Government can help the devolved nations to do better and to bring up the UK average?

My hon. Friend is right to point to the fact that Wales, sadly, performed less well than England. It is also true that the PISA results revealed a sharp decline in standards in Scottish schools during the past 10 years. The message from Sir Michael Wilshaw, as head of Ofsted, is that the quality of leadership at school and local authority level and the energy given in supporting those leaders by elected politicians, business leaders and others are critical to driving up the standards of education. If we are serious about tackling this country’s long-term economic challenges, including our lack of productivity and the challenge posed to so many forms of employment by digital technology, we need to do everything we can to drive up standards in schools and colleges so that young people are able to prosper in such a rapidly changing economic environment.

Now that the Leader of the House has been identified as our next Prime Minister but one, will he use his new-found authority to insist on a debate on the negotiating strategy for Brexit? While we do not know the destination, subject debates on Brexit are completely irrelevant. Invoking article 50 and going into a time-limited negotiation without at least a broad outline of outcomes means that Monsieur Barnier will make la viande hachée—mincemeat—of this Government. May we have a debate to avoid his meat being minced?

I have looked at the Order Papers for the period since we came back after the summer recess in September, and I think it is right to say that we have had at least one debate on an aspect of EU exit in every week, or every week but one. We had a full day’s debate yesterday, in which exactly these issues were aired. The Prime Minister has made it clear that the Government will publish more detail about our negotiating objectives next year before we trigger article 50 of the treaties. What we should not and will not do is to give the sort of detailed exposition that I fear the right hon. Gentleman is seeking. None of the other 27 EU Governments are doing anything like that, and nor should we. You do not reveal your negotiating hand when you are about to start negotiations.

The United Nations estimates that since 9 October 240,000 people have been displaced from Myanmar. The humanitarian disaster unfolding suggests that thousands are having to become refugees in Bangladesh and other parts of south-east Asia. Islamic Relief is doing its best to cope with that humanitarian disaster, but may we have a statement from the Department for International Development—or whichever Department is deemed appropriate—on what the Government will do to help those who are refugees in their own country?

My hon. Friend knows that there is a long and very sad history of communal tension in Myanmar, and in particular a history of discrimination against and persecution of the Rohingya people. When talking to their Burmese opposite numbers, British Ministers, our embassy in the capital and Foreign Office officials constantly raise the need to observe human rights standards and ensure the wellbeing of all communities in Myanmar. We will continue to do that, as well as directing some of our DFID spending programme towards humanitarian relief in that country.

Periods are an annoyance for every menstruating woman but for homeless women they are far more than that. Sanitary products are simply unaffordable for thousands living on the streets, an issue raised by the campaign the Homeless Period. Will the Leader of the House commit to a debate to discuss ways to relieve the degradation and embarrassment faced by thousands every single day?

I cannot offer an immediate debate, but the hon. Lady makes a perfectly reasonable case for the subject to be looked at further and I will make sure that the relevant Minister does so.

The news coming out of Port Talbot yesterday is hugely welcome in Corby after months of uncertainty in the steel industry. In the light of that news I pay tribute to Ministers, colleagues across parties and the unions for the constructive work that has taken place to get to this point. I echo the calls of the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan). May we have a statement next week to discuss the next steps as we move forward towards reaching a final agreement?

Throughout his time here since 2015, my hon. Friend has been a formidable spokesman for his constituency and for the interests of the United Kingdom steel industry more generally. I join him in his tribute to all those who made the deal possible. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will be here next Tuesday and I am sure that there will be questions to him on this subject.

I am sure that the Leader of the House will be aware that earlier this week Women’s Aid and nia launched the first report from the femicide census, which details the cases of nearly 1,000 women in England and Wales who have been killed by men since 2009. I am aware of the debate later this afternoon, but in response to that report may we have a statement from the Government on what they will be doing to stop any more women being killed at the hands of men through domestic violence?

The report is important, as the hon. Gentleman says, and Ministers will want to study and reflect on it before announcing any possible policy initiatives. It is good that more people now are willing to come forward and report instances of domestic abuse before they get to the really critical stage he described where someone’s life is under threat. It is also true that the police are now much readier to investigate and take action in respect of such cases than might have been the case some years ago. These are always difficult judgments for the police officers and social workers who are dealing with individual families to take, but the key has to be for people who are victims to feel confident that if they come forward the allegations they make will be taken very seriously and investigated properly, and that, where there is evidence, prosecutions will follow.

A few years ago, it emerged that if the then Prime Minister Tony Blair was indisposed or worse, John Prescott would take over as Prime Minister—the nation slept more soundly because of that. It then emerged that William Hague would take over if the coalition Prime Minister was indisposed or worse. It then emerged that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) would take over from David Cameron. It emerged yesterday, with a superb performance by the Leader of the House, that it is clearly he who would take over as Prime Minister if our Prime Minister was indisposed or worse. May we have a short statement to put that on the record, so we know where everyone stands?

I sometimes think that my hon. Friend spends his spare hours compiling an actuarial table of senior members of the Government. What I can say to him is that whatever circumstances may arise the Queen’s Government will carry on.

Over the past few years, job-finding services, such as cards displaying real jobs and telephones to call about those jobs, have been stripped from jobcentres. With the unexpected news yesterday that the number of Glasgow jobcentres will be cut by 50%, including the jobcentre in Anniesland in my constituency, will the Leader of the House make a statement on the services my constituents should expect in the new planned supercentres?

These are obviously matters that will primarily be for the management of Jobcentre Plus, but there will be the full range of Jobcentre Plus services at the larger centres. As I said in response to the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), I hope the hon. Lady and her colleagues will acknowledge that one reason we need to provide a concentration of services, to help and provide support to those who genuinely—owing to disability, long-term unemployment or whatever other reason—find it hard to get back into work, is that the overall number of people out of work, in Glasgow and elsewhere in Scotland, has come down very significantly. I do wish that Scottish National party Members would sometimes balance their challenges to the Government with a recognition of the fact that there are now more people in work than ever before.

I was rather disappointed with the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) in relation to Liverpool City Council’s spending difficulties. Bristol has just imposed a spending freeze, as it bids to find cuts of £92 million over the next five years. The Mayor is, rightly, being as transparent and open as possible, with a public consultation on what this will mean. Will the Government not emulate that openness by having a debate in Government time on the financial difficulties facing our core cities?

I am sure there will be plenty of opportunities in various proceedings of the House for these issues to be raised, whether in generic terms or in relation to local authorities. This challenge is not confined to Bristol or any other city, or any other local authority, urban or rural. Nor are central Government Departments in any way exempt. We have to live within our means. We have to pay down the remaining third of the deficit we inherited in 2010; otherwise we will not be able to pay our way in the world.

I join my hon. Friends in asking for a debate in Government time or a statement on jobcentre closures in Glasgow, and in particular on the effects this measure will have on social security claimants. Will the Leader of the House confirm that an equality impact assessment will be published, so that all hon. Members can provide their response to these closures and the effects they will have on claimants?

The DWP will comply with all its statutory obligations in respect of these changes. It has held initial consultations and briefings with the trade unions, and they will now consult their members about its proposals, but again I just say to the hon. Gentleman that the reason for the consolidation is not just that Glasgow has more small individual jobcentres than other cities in Scotland, but that unemployment in Scotland has come down. The level of employment in Scotland has gone up by 166,000 since 2010, while the youth claimant count has gone down by a very welcome 18,200.

Can we have a debate on environmental protection after we leave the EU, because I am deeply concerned that in the rush towards a red, white and blue Brexit, we will simply get rid of the green?

The Government remain very committed to our climate change objectives and to improving the UK’s environmental performance overall. That is why my right hon. Friend, the now Home Secretary, played a leading role last year, along with the then French Foreign Minister, in agreeing the Paris deal, the first-ever binding global agreement on carbon reduction and climate change. The Government are delivering through their investment in renewable technologies, along with the additional measures in the autumn statement on electric and other ultra-low emission vehicles, to ensure that we maintain those green policies that will give us economic and commercial opportunities as well as an improved environment.

Does the Leader of the House agree that the boundary review should be carried out using the most up-to-date information, and will he therefore set out what is delaying the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill from going into Committee?

The hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass), the Bill’s promoter, did not produce a text for the Bill until three days, I think, before it was set down for Second Reading, and there was no memorandum or other estimate of the costs associated with it. The Government, therefore, in dealing with the request for a money resolution, are doing their own analysis of the costs of implementing the Bill. I say to the hon. Gentleman, however, that for any boundary review there has to be a cut-off point after which the commission can get on with its job. If we were to follow the Labour party’s advice and simply abort the current overdue boundary review, we would go into the 2020 election with constituencies that differed vastly in the size of their electorate and on the basis of population figures derived from a consensus that by then would be 20 years old.

A constituent has brought to my attention an unfortunate situation—perhaps an unintended consequence of current legislation—regarding a protracted period of unemployment. Being desperate for work, he found employment on a short-term contract abroad, only to return home to discover that he was ineligible for jobseeker’s allowance. Can we have a statement or debate in Government time on the impact of the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Habitual Residence) Amendment Regulations 2013, particularly the three-month rule for UK nationals returning after short-term contracts abroad?

If the hon. Gentleman would like to give me details of the constituency case, I will ask the relevant DWP Minister to look into it in more detail.

Our state-run nursery schools employ fully qualified teachers and headteachers, and they do a brilliant job, often in deprived areas—I have a number in my constituency, including the Fields children’s centre, which I visited a few weeks ago—but proposed Government funding changes are putting their very future at risk. Can we have a statement from the Education Secretary and a debate before these vital services are done irreversible damage?

The Government are not cutting nursery education but expanding the provision of nursery and other early years education. However, there are Education questions on Monday 19 December, at which the hon. Gentleman can raise these points with Ministers.

May we have a debate on pancreatic cancer? We recently had pancreatic cancer awareness month. This year, I sadly lost my own uncle to the disease, and my family, like many others across the United Kingdom, are only too aware of how intractable it is and that further funding for research and developments in treatment are badly needed.

The hon. Lady makes a very good point. One of the real challenges with pancreatic cancer is that the symptoms are often not recognised until it is too late for any kind of effective treatment to be given to the patient. She will have noted that in my statement I announced time for the Backbench Business Committee that is as yet unassigned, so she might want to take this issue up with the Committee Chair.

May we have a statement or a debate in Government time on consultation periods? The Government have announced two important consultations, and both last over the Christmas period. Consultation on reforming the soft tissue claims process opened on 17 November and closes on 6 January, which is a day over seven weeks, while consultation on reforming the employment tribunal system opened on 5 December and closes on 21 January, which is one day less than seven weeks. Surely Christmas knocks out about two weeks of that, so we are down to five weeks. The last Labour Government guidance stated that there should be a minimum of 12 weeks and that if it is over Christmas, it should be longer, but this Government amended that to a “proportionate amount of time”. Surely five weeks is very little time to respond to these crucial consultations, and both should be extended to over 12 weeks. The Leader of the House needs to understand that the results of consultation are for life, not just for Christmas.

There is a balance to be struck in any consultation period between allowing sufficient time for representations and ensuring that the timetable allows decisions to be taken and policy to be brought forward. The hon. Lady’s suggestion that we should simply write off two weeks over Christmas and the new year seems to me to be somewhat extraordinary. The two timetables that she described allow in each case for several weeks well apart from the Christmas and new year period. At a time when postal services are perhaps not running normally, all these consultations invite responses online, so it is not at all difficult for people to make representations without having to rely on the post.

The Government’s announcement on jobcentres yesterday will take Glasgow’s jobcentres down from 16 to eight, and there will be consultation only on two of those closures across the city. Members of Parliament had to read about this in the press, and it took seven hours after that story breaking before a Minister bothered to contact me. Given that, does the Leader of the House agree that we need a statement? If he is so confident about accessibility as between closing jobcentres and remaining jobcentres, will he tell me how far it is from Castlemilk to Newlands, and how long the journey would take him on a bus?

What my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is proposing is to bring the distribution of jobcentres in Glasgow in line with the pattern that already applies in other Scottish cities. I note that there is no outcry from Scottish National party Members about opening additional jobcentres in other cities. It seems to me that what the Department is proposing is entirely reasonable. Its objective is to provide an enhanced service to those people who need help from jobcentres.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) set out and as we know from the Transport Secretary’s own words, the decision not to pass suburban rail services to the Mayor of London was based on party politics and not on evidence. Can the Leader of the House commit the Government to a genuine and impartial assessment of the case for devolution based on the needs of London and the south-east, not on one man’s prejudices?

As the Secretary of State for Transport said on Monday, he has invited the Mayor of London and TfL to engage in detailed discussions about how to work much more closely together in the management of commuter routes. I repeat again that those routes do not serve just London constituencies and communities; they are absolutely critical to the travel-to-work arrangements of tens of thousands of people living outside the Greater London area, whom they also serve. It is only right that those people, too, should have some democratic route through which to challenge and to hold to account the people responsible for taking decisions about their railway.

During the summer, I conducted a consultation in my constituency about VAT reductions for tourism businesses. It was made clear to me that we could create more jobs and put more money into the local economy and, indeed, the national Exchequer if we targeted those businesses, but this week I received a letter from the Treasury whose contents could be summarised as “no”. May we have a debate on the issue so that we can draw attention to the benefits of pursuing such a policy, which would enable local economies like mine to grow?

I am delighted if the hon. Gentleman has become a convert to the cause of lower taxation, although I think he may have a job of work to do to persuade others in his party. However, there is also the necessity for any Government to raise revenue in order to pay for services, which he and his colleagues keep arguing to me should receive additional funding, not less. The Government are committed to trying to reduce taxation wherever and whenever they are able to do so, but we must live within our means as a country, and that means raising the revenue to pay for public services and pay down the deficit, which is still too high.

A constituent of mine, Mr Singleton, approached me recently because he had been told by his energy supplier, E.ON, that his warm home discount payment would not reach him until May. Happily we have now been assured that the payment will be received earlier than that, but E.ON has said that other customers may still not receive their payments before 31 May 2017. At a time when fuel poverty is such a problem, it is totally unacceptable for those payments to be delayed for so long. May we have an urgent debate on the issue?

I hope that the management of E.ON have heard the criticisms that the hon. Gentleman has made on behalf of his constituent, and will do whatever they can to speed up those payments. One reason for welcoming the ability of customers to switch between energy suppliers is that it enables them to move their energy accounts to suppliers which they believe will give them a better and speedier service, but, as I have said, I hope that the company will take note of the case that he has described, which I suspect may apply to a great many other people as well.

Mr Speaker,

“you’ve got the Saudis, Iran, everybody, moving in and puppeteering and playing proxy wars, and it’s a tragedy to watch it.”

Those were not my words but those of our Foreign Secretary, in footage released by The Guardian yesterday evening. May we have a debate in Government time on the role that we are playing in that tragedy, not as innocent bystanders but as the kingdom’s largest arms trading partner?

Let me say to the hon. Lady that people in this country are safer from terrorism because of the close co-operation that we have with Saudi Arabia and the other states of the Gulf Co-operation Council. They are critical allies in that work, and it is right that we should continue the strong alliance that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was seeking to cement when she visited the GCC summit this week.

The all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief, of which I am the chair—I should declare that interest—and Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK are concerned about the potential use of anti-terror laws by the Pakistani Government, given that in January, under those laws, 81-year-old Abdul Shakoor was sentenced to eight years in prison for possessing copies of the Holy Koran. The police have gatecrashed a publications office and raided the Ziaul Islam Press, seizing printing plates of the Tehrik-e-Jadid magazine. All that reflects the Pakistan authorities’ relentless targeting of the Ahmadiyya community simply on the grounds of their faith. May I ask the Leader of the House for a debate on the issue?

Pakistan, like many other countries, faces a genuine challenge from ruthless organised terrorist groups. There is always a tricky balance to be sought between having and exercising powers that will be effective against a real threat from terrorists and not trampling on basic civil rights. That balance, and complaints about abuse of human rights in Pakistan through the application of anti-terrorism laws, are issues that Ministers and Government officials raise constantly in their conversations with Pakistani counterparts.

We all agree that the National Audit Office does a great job of scrutiny, but last year 60% of its 108 investigations and reviews excluded Scotland. Given the earlier non-answers we got from the Deputy Leader of the House, can the Leader of the House give me a statement with a detailed explanation of why no Barnett consequentials arise from the contribution of over £300 million towards the NAO’s work? We will request a review of that allocation.

The NAO is not directed by the Government; it is an independent body that sets its own priorities. I will refer the hon. Gentleman’s question to the Comptroller and Auditor General and ask him to write to the hon. Gentleman with the explanation he is seeking.